As one of the larger Impro distributors, I quite often get involved in the design and occasionally the implementation of complex projects installed by our resellers.
This is an explanation on how we used the Improx backbone to supply Sapref, one of the largest oil refineries in southern Africa, with a complex information system, incorporating the following:
* Access control to three integrated national keypoint sites.
* Time and attendance with hundreds of report writing users.
* Web-based contractor management system control of all contractor information.
* SAP HR control of all employee based information.
* E-mail based visitor system.
* Web-based staff telephone and location system.
The access control set-up was the simpler part of the project, as the 'Impronet access pack' took care of almost every access control requirement as standard. The 'Interbase' (today called Firebird) SQL compliant database was chosen due to its reliability and cost advantages.
The system comprises three 'ImproNet Engines', or three geographic 'sites', physically located many kilometres apart, but connected via the Sapref wide area network. All system information is kept on a single database, and a dedicated 'engine' PC at each site ensures that the controllers under its jurisdiction are kept synchronised with the central database.
IXP400 controllers were selected for the job, each holding up to 30 000 tagholder details. The database of contractors on the records of the client may exceed this limitation at some point in the future, at which point a small memory upgrade will increase this limit to 160 000 tags per controller.
The 'distributed processing' principle was crucial as downtime on such an important site could not be tolerated. The IXP400 controllers maintain the latest update of the database set-ups as delivered by the ImproNet Engine, and full validation takes place at the controller, even during times of network or server maintenance or downtime.
In areas where display information was required, the relevant Impro LCD display readers were utilised, whereas in the more harsh environments, the metal readers ensure reliable reads under the most trying conditions.
Time and attendance
The X-Time 300 software was utilised which is fully integrated into the ImproNet database. Time and attendance databases are often kept outside of the data acquisition or access control databases, but this was not acceptable to the client as this causes additional maintenance and errors whilst maintaining duplicate information and synchronising databases.
The result is that under certain circumstances, tag take-on can be undertaken in the time and attendance or other integrated application, and such data will simultaneously appear on any of the other systems as a valid employee or tagholder. Along with modern day system architecture, a 'single source of data' was a prerequisite.
Besides the complicated shifts and schedules required by the client, X-Time 300 also had to be a 'hands off' system, without intervention by anybody other than initial set-up. Shift changes had to be passed down automatically from the SAP HR system, whilst employee computed daily hours had to be passed back to SAP HR for daily use by departmental management.
Web-based contractor interface
The ImproNet system ensures that the user is able to create our own components, tailor made to the client requirements. In the case of Sapref, even when thousands of contractors are being taken on for urgent projects, access approval is granted via website generated e-mail sent directly to project managers. Entry of the contractor data onto the ImproNet database is instantaneous following the Click on the 'Accept' button on the electronic application form.
In line with the 'single source of data' philosophy, the Web enabled contractor management system is also incorporated into the ImproNet database. Again, a custom contractor reporting system was supplied, providing individual confidential computed contractor data to each contractor, using terminals supplied by Sapref on its local area network. Being a national keypoint, it was important that a number of automated and customised security checks be incorporated into the take-on screens of this and the other customised applications.
SAP HR integration
Industry leaders have mostly chosen their route of ERP (enterprise requirement planning) software, and very popular throughout the world is SAP. In this case, the HR (human resources) module from SAP was installed on site and used extensively by a wide array of employees to gain access to various components of data pertaining to personnel. SAP HR is the central data warehouse for all personnel type data, so it was a prerequisite that the ImproNet system could achieve the following:
* Employees created or amended in SAP HR be simultaneously updated in the ImproNet database.
* All employee clocks be updated simultaneously in the SAP HR system.
* All employee computed daily hours be simultaneously updated in the SAP HR system.
* All shift or shift cycle changes in SAP HR can be updated simultaneously in the ImproNet database.
At this point it is clear to see that the system would have been infinitely more complex should the access control and time and attendance systems have been separate systems or databases. As ImproNet provided a single source of information, only one update was necessary, whether it was access control or a time & attendance update from SAP.
This interface is a complex one by most standards as SAP does not allow third parties to write to the SAP database. Instead, it requires some more complex arrangement of requests and acceptances by SAP. This is all taken care of within the 'Saplink' gateway.
E-mailed based visitors system
The natural process of e-mailing a simple completed visitor application document directly to the ImproNet system means that when a visitor arrived at the counter, security had simply to enter their ID number into the custom visitor system, and their authorised record would appear. A visitor Impro proximity card would then be scanned at the take-on reader and the visitor record would be completed. Access to the correct areas with the correct expiry are automatically issued.
Web staff telephone and location system
Sapref has, via the Web enablement facilities, integrated its corporate telephone directory into the ImproNet database. Via the numerous search criteria, the system will even display a photograph of the selected employee, and give all relevant directory information. Also on the page, to assist with quick physical location, is the last access point (with date and time) of the employee, as well as direction that they went. In a third field, it displays whether they are on or offsite.
This subsystem was a simple addition, completed by the client.
For more information contact Tony White, Impro Distribution & Support KZN, 031 263 1487.
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